I began this post a year ago and never published it because I continue to feel that there is still some yet unexpressed aspect of Córdova’s work that I had not adequately described. Her ceramic images evoke in me the Phaedrus, in which Plato described the fall of the soul. They also evoke the River Styx, which for the Greeks formed the barrier between Earth and the Underworld. Her forms arise from that same psycho-emotional space from which our mythologies emanate. A space where only metaphors have meaning and geometric forms arouse our proto-memories to something distant and yet familiar.
Others have described her work as “Primitive Latin American” and perhaps it is. However, it is my opinion that her work is not specifically Latin; in my estimation its true power, much like all of the Great Myths, is in it’s universality. Her figures appear (more…)
The ocean is mysterious in the truest sense. We only know its edges, not its center. We know its shallow bits fairly well, but its depths are still fairly unexplored. We have been to the moon more than we have been to the deepest parts of the ocean. I think we relate to the ocean because in some ways, we humans are similarly mysterious. I find the art of Jason deCaires Taylor to be capturing a hint of that mystery.
Taylor has gained international recognition for creating the world’s first underwater sculpture park in Grenada, West Indies. His work is not only beautiful and unique; it also champions a message of (more…)
Matt Woodward’s artwork is reminiscent of a daydream or of recapturing only a part of a memory; you know it is there, and yet it is never quite within your grasp. You sense it, yet can not see it. I was touched by it from the first impression. Woodward is a Chicago based artist whose work is inspired by the “memories of grandeur” implicit in the decay he experiences in the architecture and environment around him.
I had a chance to ask him about his work, the following are excerpts from that conversation:
“It is tough to get into all that (when asked what inspires his creativity)… (more…)
The work of Sara Schneckloth strives to embody moments of remembering. The emotions and memories from our past experiences leave their mark on more than our minds, they affect the function of our organs, our bodies, today. This thought informs Schneckloth’s work as she seeks to channel her painful memories into emotive lines of charcoal on paper.
The following are excerpts from an interview with Leslie Hinton:
I like to have a sense of a loose structure in which I can invent and explore the themes that are most relevant, but it is rarely a pre-determined event. Drawing lends itself to this kind of immediacy, in terms of both materials and how they are handled, and there is always the sense for me that I’m witnessing a thought evolve as I work. The initial phases of the process are much more visceral/intuitive than pre-conceived and intellectualized, but there is (more…)
Joshua Allen Harris is a NY street artist who is just doing as any native folk artist does; using the materials of his environment to create something special. The native environment of NYC consists of discarded trash and underground air vents. The result: Lifelike trash monsters who come to life as the vents release air, and then fall again, melting like a wicked witch. What a lift that must be to the unsuspecting passerby!
Noted mathematician, Marston Morse once said “Mathematics are the result of mysterious powers which no one understands, and which the unconscious recognition of beauty must play an important part. Out of an infinity of designs a mathematician chooses one pattern for beauty’s sake and pulls it down to earth.” Ahh, enter Bathsheba Grossman…
Part scientist, part mathematician, part programmer, part sculptor; Bathsheba Grossman creates once impossible works of geometric beauty.
To hear Bathsheba describe her work, one might suspect that she spent her personal hours in the math or comp-sci labs while attending art school. She is a delightful techno-geek whose discourse and description are technically precise and scientific in nature. Her creations are inspired by mathematics and brought forth into the world in their complete forms. No, not from the brow of Zeus, but rather through the combination of two modern technologies, namely three dimensional computer modeling and three dimensional metal printing.
Though she is now a dedicated full time artist, her past employment has included work as a programmer, college professor, tech writer, typist, and web designer.
Her design concepts often come from her work with clay models, though she sometimes begins with known mathematical shapes. Still other times, she conceives of an idea in her head and reproduces her vision directly via coded computer scripts which she imports into her 3D modeling software.
Bathsheba compared her use of 3D metal printing to the use of 3D plastic printing which has been in common industrial use for several years: “using some of the same processes [as 3D plastic printing] but with a little metal sintering added on at the end it is possible to do similar operations with metal powder. Thereby resulting in fully dense metal objects which have the strength, durability and archival nature of steel. But, can also take forms which are impossible to cast, fabricate or really make by any other means at all. So, here I am, working with objects that are impossible to make. If you show these to people who work in metal, they simply fall on the floor, because there is no way to make these things, it’s impossible! …that’s what I consider to be the most interesting new technology in metal, practically since casting was invented.”
Incidentally, I had the opportunity to test this statement. I showed this series of photographs to a local metal machinist. Bathsheba was right, his jaw dropped as he exclaimed the impossibility of creating these shapes in one continuous piece.
“They’re visions of order in the universe; my peaceful places. I feel calm and hopeful in making them.” says Grossman.
And I have the same experience in viewing them.
Bathsheba also works with glass utilizing sub-surface laser damage to produce 3-dimensional images in glass.
When I first discovered Ian Brownlee, I found his images to be penetrating – much like a song you wake up singing the next day. The images from Brownlee’s “American Myths” series seem to remain fixed in my mind. These sometimes Darger-esque images have a sweet and gentle surface that appears to hide a deeper, stranger, perhaps darker evocation.
“Elisha Mitchell’s Funeral” Ian Brownlee, acrylic on canvas, 60×48, 2009
Brownlee uses the term “myth” in it’s widest sense. I had an opportunity to ask Brownlee about his work. He explained “I’ve spent a lot of time in in southeast and the west, studying the land and its history. Mythology refers not just to stories but to whole mindsets and outlooks full of unquestioned assumptions. Some of the works reference well-known myths, others point out and make fun of those unquestioned assumptions. Others are just strange and funny, but you find that in mythology too.”
“The works on paper from the American Myths series were definitely inspired by Henry Darger. I began the series as large paintings on canvas, painted somewhat realistically. But then looking back at my sketches, they seemed to have a freshness that was missing in the larger pieces. So I decided to do something Darger-esque with them. Those pieces are smaller, they’re on paper, and they rely on outline. I’m now in the process of painting larger versions of some of them.”
“Elisha Mitchell‘s Funeral” (pictured above) relates to an interesting historical figure. Professor Elisha Mitchell, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was one of the first white men to discover the great and mysterious “Black Mountains” of North Carolina rich with dark balsam forests, reminiscent of the last ice age. Though native feet had tread these mountains for 15,000 years, the region was still considered “undiscovered” by the “new world”.
The brave yet tragic tale involves a great dispute between two men over which peaks were highest and who discovered them first. Mitchell made daring journeys often climbing on his hands and knees through miles of tunnel like, 3 foot high black bear trails through dense thickets up steep and slippery slopes in order to reach and measure the peaks. Ultimately, Elisha Mitchell lost his life in the effort to prove his claims. On June 27, 1857 at approximately 8:19 PM Elisha Mitchell slipped on a rocky ledge above a 20 ft waterfall (now called Mitchell Falls) and fell to his death. He hit his head as he fell and drowned in the deep cold pool below. But, Mitchell had successfully measured the highest peak east of the Rockies, and the mountain now bares his name.
Brownlee’s clean and simple imagery evokes for us the not so clean, and not so simple landscape of “American Myths”.
“Special Delivery” Ian Brownlee, acrylic on paper, 8×10, 2007
“Dying Words” Ian Brownlee, acrylic on paper, 22×30, 2007
Slideshow of images from the “American Myth” Series by Ian Brownlee
Considering the work of Henry Darger, it strikes me that we live in a world full of secrets. Occasionally, one gets out.
It was on the day after his birthday, and the last day of his life, that the reclusive hospital janitor’s extraordinary secret life was discovered…
Illustration from The Story of the Vivian Girls by Henry Darger (Click to enlarge)
Henry Darger was born in 1892, and after his parents died at a young age, he was raised in an “Asylum for Feeble Minded Children”. At the asylum he was subject to harsh punishments and forced labor and ultimately escaped a year before the asylum was investigated for abuse. Once free, he found work as a janitor, attended daily Catholic Mass and lived a quiet solitary life in which almost no one knew him or noticed him.
On April 13th, 1973, the last day of Henry Darger’s life, landlord (and accomplished photographer), Nathan Lerner opened the door to the small second story Chicago apartment where Darger had lived in solitude for 40 years. At that time, Darger had been moved to the St. Augustine Mission because of his failing health. Among Darger’s personal affects, Lerner uncovered several astounding works of literature and hundreds of works of art, all created in secret by Henry Darger.
Among these were:
a 15,000 page work of fantasy fiction called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion;
a 5,000 page autobiography entitled The History of my Life;
a 10-year daily weather journal;
a 10,000 page novel entitled Crazy House
Several hundred original illustrations and water color paintings depicting the plight of young children against oppressive and evil adults.
Darger’s images were often violent, even brutal, displaying the torture and murder of the children in his stories. They can also be very colorful, playful, sincere and innocent. Darger surely drew upon his life experiences in the asylum. His unique style has given rise to the term “Dargerism”. The American Folk Art Museum calls Darger “one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century”.
Nathan Lerner, Darger’s landlord, “was inextricably bound up in the history of visual culture in Chicago” (according to the New York Times), and instantly recognized the artistic merit of Darger’s compositions. It was a truly remarkable coincidence that someone, such as Lerner, should be the first to see Darger’s secret works. Under most other circumstances all of his artwork and stories would surely have been lost forever. Nathan Lerner, and his wife Kiyoko, gained the rights to Darger’s estate and have brought the world’s attention to it. Since Lerner’s discovery, Darger’s artwork has achieved wide acclaim as “outsider art“. His stories and paintings (and mental status) have become the subject of books and documentary films.
In The Story of The Vivian Girls, we come to learn that the Earth is actually orbiting a larger planet, much as the moon orbits the Earth. It is upon this larger world that Darger’s story takes place. I believe that for Darger, the inner fantasy world was larger than his reality, and his reality simply orbited this other, more important fantasy world. In Darger’s world, abused children are avenged and innocence conquers all.
Darger’s body now rests in All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, Illinois, in a plot called “The Old People of the Little Sisters of the Poor Plot.” Darger’s modest headstone is inscribed “Artist” and “Protector of Children.”
Several examples of Darger’s larger works (click to enlarge):
Texas “dirty car artist” Scott Wade (pictured here recreating Dutch master, Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”) has found an artistic use for the ever present dust collecting on his car. He has recieved a good bit of notoriety for his creations which wash away with tomorrows rain.
“I don’t do this to try and create immortal works of art” says Wade. “We aren’t going to be around forever, and nothing we do is going to last forever as much as we’d like it to. We need to learn to let go of that I think, and just enjoy what’s here.”
When asked which of his works is his favorite, Wade replies “the next one!”
Later this year, Scott will be creating a special piece for the Atlanta Arts Festival.Correction: Scott Wade created a special piece for the Atlanta Arts Festival in 2008.
Bernard Pierre Wolff died of AIDS in 1985 and will likely never assume the fame and credibility that his work deserves. His images of statues seem to be alive with human emotion. They are weighty with a kind of longing that resonates with the viewer. When he photographs people, we see often them juxtaposed against a non-living figure in such a way as to cause the viewer to compare life and non-life. If there were such a category as existentialist photography, I think Wolff might be its champion.
I first discovered Bernard Pierre Wolff in the late 1980’s after I purchased Joy Division’s album “Closer”. I was captivated by the albums cover image. Since then I have found Wolff’s work to have a certain darkness, but also a gentle beauty that is delicate and human.